EAGAR — The LODGE, a new teen center that will be modeled off of the St. Johns LOFT center, has begun excavation at its location on Butler Street near the Round Valley High School. The land for the building was bought back in 2017, with plans to open a center shortly after. Now after multiple delays, the LODGE is now back on track, with a target completion date of fall 2020.
Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Latham has been the driving force behind the development of the teen centers. In a telephone interview, he explained that there were multiple setbacks to the program that delayed construction.
“We didn’t realize the bureaucracy that comes with building a government building. Most of it was that,” Judge Latham said about the delays. “We have to get this approval, we have to get this license, we have to get this architect. Even though it’s rural, we had to get a report to show the light emissions from every fixture on the exterior of the building to show what, based on its wattage, how far would light bleed past the property line. And you have to use a person that has the proper license to do the report … There was a lot of stuff that we had no control over, and it just takes time.”
The plus side to all of the delays, Judge Latham explained, was that the county was able to save up money over “three budget cycles” for construction of the LODGE. “It wound up being more expensive than we expected,” he said. The savings from the delay bought them the ability to cover those unexpected expenses.
The funds for both the LOFT and the LODGE programs comes out of the juvenile detention budget. When Apache County was funding a juvenile detention center prior to its closure in 2015, that budget was around $1.2 million dollars every year for maintenance, required staffing and related costs. Running the LOFT costs the county only about $250,000 a year, and the LODGE is expected to cost a similar amount.
In the past two years that Apache County has transitioned funds from maintaining a detention facility to funding the LOFT and its associated programs, “juvenile referrals in the area have dropped 55%,” Latham said. Currently, costs for juvenile detention runs the county sometimes as low as “between $20,000 — $40,000 thousand” a year through an agreement with Pinal County for use of space in their center. The juvenile detention rate has gone from an average of 1.7 a month in 2015 to only one juvenile referral every few months.
The LOFT building in St. Johns was created from remodeling the old juvenile detention center building, and it is between 3,100 and 3,500 square feet in size. The LODGE, which will be serving the larger population of Round Valley, is expected to be around 5,100 square feet. “We’re able to plan this time and build what we wanted, not just [work with] what we had,” Judge Latham said.
Programs available for kids at the LODGE are expected to be similar to the ones offered in St. Johns, including a version of the LOFT’s video shooting and editing program and an option for music recording.
“The goal is to keep these kids engaged and doing fun things that teach them skills, but also plug them into the community,” Judge Latham said.